Friday, April 08, 2005

EPA nominee avoids derailment

It looks like Stephen Johnson may have dodged a bullet in his bid to win congressional approval to be the next head of the Environmental Protection Agency.
A 24-year veteran of the EPA, Johnson’s nomination to head the agency, where he is currently the acting administrator, was not in doubt until the other day when House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi raised objections about a little known EPA research project called CHEERS (Children’s Environmental Exposure Research Study).

The program was limited to families in Duval County (Fla.) that routinely used pesticides inside their homes. It offered parents $970 over two years if they made sure their young children went about their usual activities as the use of pesticides continued. Researchers would then visit the home every three to six months to collect data.

Wow! Can you imagine? The government comes to your door and tells you they are concerned about the effect of certain pesticides on young children. Then they offer you money ($930) if you will continue to expose your child to these pesticides for the next two years so that they can record what happens. (Come here, Junior. Stand over there while I spray this.) Where did they come up with this? It sounds like something straight out of Hitler’s Nazi concentration camps.

Fortunately, the study had already been suspended pending further inverstigation after receiving negative publicity last year. What set Pelosi off was that they were even considering going forward with it.

Well, not any more.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Undermining the death penalty

This really ticks me off.

The Texas Senate refused to create a new alternative to the death penalty Tuesday when it rejected a proposal that would allow juries to lock up capital murderers without any chance for parole...
...Blocked by senators heeding the arguments of some prosecutors who believe the change would undermine the death penalty, it fell just short of the 21 votes — or two-thirds majority — necessary to bring any proposal to the Senate floor.

So they are afraid to give jurors the option of life without parole for fear that it might lead to fewer people being sentenced to death. Oh how horrible!

And they do this during the same week that people are mourning the death of Pope John Paul II, one of the leading opponents of the death penalty.

Raising the bar on sleaze

Remember when House Speaker Jim Wright was forced to resign from office in 1989 after Republicans hounded him for making $55,000 off of bulk sales of a vanity book to corporate lobbyists?
That plus his wife was revealed to have been paid $18,000 for doing unspecified work for a friend and business partner?

Well, the Republicans have certainly raised the bar for how much sleaze they will tolerate since then.

Today it was reported that House Majority Leader Tom DeLay’s wife and daughter were paid more than $500,000 from DeLay’s own political action committee since 2001.

Tack that on to the multitude of other scandals swirling around DeLay and it is a wonder how Republicans can stand to be in the same room with him without gagging.

Sen. Corleone makes the judiciary an offer it can’t refuse

My long-winded lawyer friend Beldar gives a spirited (and lengthy) defense of Sen. Corleone today (oops! I mean Cornyn). As one might guess, Beldar argues that Cornyn’s veiled threat to the judiciary was taken out of context. He insists that everyone should read Cornyn’s speech in its entirety - no doubt in hopes that it will put most of them to sleep and cause them to forget why they were reading it in the first place when they wake up.
But I don’t buy the “out of context” argument in this case. There is nothing that Cornyn said before or after the key statements that change or alter thier intended meaning.
But Beldar does a good job of summarizing why it is that I have such a hard time accepting that Cornyn would be a party to this GOP effort to vilify the judiciary in the first place:

John Cornyn, as you probably know (but may have forgotten) was the Attorney General of Texas and an Associate Justice of the Texas Supreme Court before he was elected to the US Senate.  In both of those capacities, he was extremely responsible and well-balanced.  As the chief law enforcement officer of the State of Texas, he certainly had no record of encouraging lawlessness.  He has no history of demagoguery.  Lumping him in with nuts at either the left or right extremes simply isn't justified based on his past record.  He's neither a Tom DeLay nor a Robert Byrd.  There's no plausible basis to argue based on his own history that by speculating about a possible cause-and-effect link, he's sending a "coded message" approving and endorsing violence against judges.

But it is that last sentence where Beldar acknowledges that Cornyn speculated  ”about a possible cause-and-effect link” which is key to the whole controversy. Beldar says there is no plausible basis to argue that such speculation sends a “coded message” approving and endorsing violence against judges. But no one is accusing Cornyn of directly approving and endorsing violence, but building a rationale that would explain such an action.
A Mafia don who drops in to visit a local shop owner would never make a direct endorsement of violence either. He would simply do what Cornyn did and warn the merchant about things that might happen if he doesn’t do certain things to keep other folks happy.

Beldar, in one of his numerous updates to his post, also prints the text of a “clarification” that Sen. Cornyn made on the Senate floor the other day. (You have to scroll down - way down).
But Cornyn neither retracts nor apologizes for his outrageous statement the day before. Instead, as he is becoming apt to do, he blames you and me for coming away with the “wrong impression.”

I regret it that my remarks have been taken out of context to create a wrong impression about my position, and possibly be construed to contribute to the problem rather than to a solution.

So it wasn’t Cornyn’s fault, you see. It was those other people who took his remarks out of context (which essentially means that they actually listened to what he said rather than dozing off at that point) who are to blame for contributing to the problem.

Cornyn goes on to say:

My point was, and is, simply this: We should all be concerned that the judiciary is losing the respect that it needs to serve the American people well.

No, Senator. It is you who have lost my respect this day.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Cornyn's "cause-and-effect connection"

What should we make of this quote by U.S. Sen. John Cornyn yesterday on the floor of the Senate?

SENATOR JOHN CORNYN: "I don't know if there is a cause-and-effect connection but we have seen some recent episodes of courthouse violence in this country. Certainly nothing new, but we seem to have run through a spate of courthouse violence recently that's been on the news and I wonder whether there may be some connection between the perception in some quarters on some occasions where judges are making political decisions yet are unaccountable to the public, that it builds up and builds up and builds up to the point where some people engage in - engage in violence."

His comments, which seem to be a strained attempt to justify violence against judges, have provoked outrage across the blogoshpere:

* From Talking Points Memo: by Joshua Micah Marshall:

Sen. Cornyn (R) Texas suggested that a slow build-up of outrage against activist judges may be the root cause of the recent rash of murders and assaults against members of the judiciary around the country....
Let alone the fact that the statement is ridiculous on its face since violence against judges in this country is almost exclusively the work of disgruntled defendents or homicidal maniacs who manage to wrestle a gun away from a bailiff, what Cornyn is trying to suggest here seems genuinely outrageous.

* John Aravosis at AMERICAblog says “Senator John Cornyn should resign immediately.”

We now have Republican Senators making excuses for terrorists. Explaining why terrorism is understandable. Why terrorists have legitimate concerns. Justifying why the victims of terrorism are really to blame for these heinous crimes. Wonder what Senator Cornyn thinks of rape victims?
This is utterly outrageous. Outrageous. The GOP is now embracing domestic terrorists who are trying to undermine our democracy. And they're doing it so they can take down the judges who "killed" Terri Schiavo, and instead impose some Pat Robertson-like theocracy on our country. This is absolutely utterly beyond contempt.

* Byron LaMasters at Burnt Orange Report says

It would seem as if John Cornyn is attempting to use the recent violence and threats of violence against our judiciary for political gain. That is utterly shameless.

* Charles Kuffner at Off the Kuff says

You are a disgrace, John Cornyn. I cannot express my contempt strongly enough.

* And Matthew Yglesias has a thoughtful post about how supposedly moderate politicians will use the actions of extremists to their advantage.

Does Senator Cornyn want more people to go about murdering judges? One doubts it. But it seems that he's happy to try and use such incidents to advance his own agenda.

I am particularly perplexed because until now I have held Sen. Cornyn in rather high esteem, at least for a Republican. When he was first elected I consoled myself with the thought that he was at least an improvement over the more extreme right-winger Phil Gramm. But I’m not so sure that Gramm would have ever gotten himself into a situation like this - he was nothing if not media savvy.

I have interviewed Cornyn on a number of occasions back when he was running for attorney general and he always struck me as a fairly level-headed, main-stream conservative Republican. So what is with this chilling attack on our judiciary, especially from a former member of the judiciary who served on the Texas Supreme Court?

Cornyn has recently introduced legislation that would restrict the courts from using foreign decisions as precedence in decididing cases. He also wrote an article in the National Review on that same subject. This was all seemingly sparked by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision striking down the death penalty for juveniles.
But it also seems to be part of a larger more concerted effort by the GOP to take on the judiciary and sway public opinion in a bid to allow President Bush to get 100 percent of his judicial nominees past Senate Democrats rather than just the 98 percent he has achieved so far.

So my take is that Cornyn has gotten a little carried away with his new task of being the point man on the Republican leadership’s campaign to attack the credibility of the federal judiciary. His statement yesterday revealed a lack of common sense and judgement that is rather shocking for someone with his background and history. I would hope that the black eye Cornyn has received for this statement will serve as a lesson and put him on a more moderate course once again. But if he would rather follow the path of extremist radicals like Tom DeLay then he is going to find himself going over the same cliff that they are heading towards.


OK, I think I understand better what is going on here...

Cornyn is a Republican tool, a team-player and he is simply following the playbook given to him by the Republican leadership. And the game afoot is coming up with a new boogey man for the mid-term elections in 2006.
The Republicans need a boogey man to run against that will distract their sheep-like followers from focusing on how they have run the economy into the ground, piled up sky-high deficits and left us with a foreign policy mess that will take generations to deal with.
In the past they were able to target a Democratic-controlled House or Senate whom they could blame for high taxes or for being soft-on-communism. For the 2002 mid-term elections they had the spectre of Saddam Hussein and his arsenal of WMDs with which to scare voters with.
Today they are casting about desperately for a new boogeyman to run against and they think they have finally found one (thanks to Terri Schiavo) in the federal and state judiciary.
The only problem, however, is that Tom DeLay and his minions keep coming across as being much scarier than any of these judges they are attempting to vilify. Can Sen. Cornyn’s shrill attacks change this? That is the real question.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Big Government Republicans

Remember when Republicans used to advocate smaller government? You know - state’s rights, local control, and all that. Well all of that apparently went out of vogue about the time that Republicans began to realize the potential for pushing their agenda using their control of all branches of the federal government.

In an article titled “Big Government’s Changing Face” in today’s Wall Street Journal (page A4), this new Republican appreciation for big government is spelled out succintly and they note that it is not just the social conservatives - who want to control every aspect of our personal lives - who are happy about it.

Republicans are moving to expand Washington’s role ... in banking, insurance and telecommunications... The Bush administration and Congress are pushing federal regulation instead of state oversight - to the applause of business constituents who now consider that more efficient and less onerous than in the days of Democratic rule...
On regulation, some Republicans are working to please many business constituents who are important ideological and financial allies... In recent years, banks have pushed through changes in federal regulations that have preempted many state consumer safeguards...

Some other examples the article gives include:
* Federal legislation that would cap medical malpractice suits in state-court cases;
* So called “Clean Skies” legislation that would limit states’ authority over power-plant pollution and would set emission reduction standards that are considerably more lenient than are currently found in many states;
* A bill that would reduce states’ authority over electric grids and the siting of new power lines;
* Legislation that would limit and possibly eliminate states’ authority to regulate insurance companies
* Legislation that would weaken state consumer protections in small-business health insurance pool coverage.

So I don’t want to hear any more about how Republicans want to give power back to the people and reduce the control of big government. The real Republican agenda here is to serve the bidding of their corporate masters by whatever means are available. In the past, that was through state and local authorities, but today it can be accomplished using federal powers. So not much has changed. Consumers, workers and the environment are still at the mercy of big business and the bottom line, only now they can no longer look to the federal government for any kind of protection.

San Antonio blogging update

I checked my blog on Sunday and was surprised to see that I had more than 65 hits that day. On an average day during the week I generally get about half that many hits and on Sundays it is generally down to almost nothing. So this was quite unusual.
As it turns out I was privileged to be mentioned in a post by Sean-Paul Kelley on The Agonist, a progressive community weblog dedicated to international commentary, news and politics. The Agonist apparently generates quite a bit of traffic because just the brief mention of my blog in Sean-Paul’s post gave me more hits in one day than I think I have ever seen.

The reason for Sean-Paul’s interest in my site was his recent discovery that we are both based in San Antonio. The local blogging community (at least for political blogs) has grown exponentially in the past few months. Some of the new local blogs that have popped up (new to me, at least) include P.M. Bryant’s B and B, which focuses on science and environmental issues; The Jeffersonian with its focus on local politics and sports and authored by the anonymous Cincinnatus; and the group news and commentary site NewsHog, which has at least one of its main contributors - Cernig - based here.

On the other side of the aisle, the conservatives are well represented by Alamo City Commando and his S.A. Express-News Watch site which takes the local daily to task for being (ahem) too liberal. Commando recently welcomed old-timer Mark Harden to his site as a regular contributor. Mark’s former blog InSane Antonio preceded mine by several months.
I’m not sure who had the first blog up in San Antonio. That title could belong to Roscoe Ellis who to my dismay announced just this weekend that he is shuttering his Online Journal.
Some other local conservative blogs I have discovered recently include Ranten Raven’s The View From The Nest;  Raving Heretic by Rick; Dead Can’t Rant by Dave and Renee; and the self-titled Tex the Pontificator.
Ben Kaminar, a St. Mary’s University law student has shut down Ben's World, which had a politically conservative focus, and is now considering starting a new blog with a focus on his religious studies.

There are some other local bloggers like Real Live Preacher and The Main Point Blog by Michael Main, who kind of operate in their own little cyber universes. And I am sure there are many more that I have missed.
All in all I’d say that we have the potential for some rather lively discussions with this diverse group.


Just came across two more San Antonio-based bloggers, both from the conservative side:
But That's Just My Opinion by Jimmy Kerr and Pete The Elder by Pete.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Pope John Paul II

I was just 13 the last time that a pope died but I still remember it well. I had just started keeping up with the news at that time reading the local paper and my parents' Time Magazine each week. I don't recall any long accolades to the departed pope at that time, just the excitement over the new guy who had just been selected - Pope John Paul I. And then he dropped dead just 30 days later and they had to rush out and start all over again.
So it seemed like Pope John Paul II got off to a rather bumpy start - having to take another guy's name and starting out with the notion that he was a last-minute replacement like a relief pitcher who comes into the game halfway through the first inning.
But John Paul II has certainly made his mark over the years, making most everybody forget there was ever a John Paul I. He was kind of like Ronald Reagan in some ways - hard not to like even when you didn't always agree with him. And there were a lot of things I disagreed with him on - abortion, contraception, homosexuality, the role of women in the church. It is said that he was very conservative and he certainly didn't budge on any of these issues. But I also remember him as being very liberal, especially when it came to criticizing the U.S. for our foreign and economic policies. He reached out to the world's poor and downtrodden and shamed the world's wealthy nations for doing nothing or not enough to address their problems. He criticized the U.S. for its military adventures in Central America and the Middle East. And he didn't back down from those positions either.
I'm not a Catholic, but I always had a great deal of respect for Pope John Paul II. I hope that the next pope will be someone I can respect and admire as well. They've got some big shoes to fill.


Sister Helen Prejean, who I got to see in person a few months ago at Trinity United Methodist Church, has an Op-Ed in the NYTimes about John Paul II’s principled opposition to the death penalty.